Hate speech is a growing source of concern, particularly in online contexts where increased incidences of hate speech, especially about ethnicity, nationality, and religion, have been observed. Worries are often anchored in the idea of individual psychological harms, such as low self-esteem, depression and suicide, or societal harms, such as increased intergroup intolerance, marginalisation and oppression, endangered democratic debate, and enhanced risks of radicalisation and violence.

Combatting hate speech has, thus, become an increasing priority in Europe and beyond, be this through criminal law, surveillance, censorship, reporting mechanisms, projects and campaigns, or counter speech strategies. Recently, there has been a spurt of targeted initiatives on the part of the EU, national governments and companies like Facebook and Twitter.

Yet, the very notion of hate speech remains highly controversial, lacking consensus about its definition, impacts, and the motivations and justification for its criminalisation and regulation. Even more striking is that still relatively little is known about the linguistic and communicative mechanisms underlying the expression of hate speech, particularly in online communication, and even less is known about how such mechanisms are perceived by ordinary language users. This is especially the case with languages other than English, such as those under scrutiny in this project: Danish and German. There is, thus, a significant gap in our knowledge and this project plans to address this.

The overall aims of the project are as follows:

  1. to ascertain the extent of hate speech on major social media platforms (Twitter and Facebook) in Denmark and Germany
  2. to identify and systemize explicit and more subtle means of hateful expression in Danish and German as well as their functions in situated contexts of use
  3. through cross-linguistic comparison, to identify shared mechanisms and patterns in the expression of hate speech
  4. to uncover similarities and differences in thresholds of acceptance of hate speech in Denmark and Germany
  5. to assess the effects of varieties of hate speech (explicit to subtle), modality (spoken and written) and group membership (ethnicity, gender, age, religion, political orientation) on the reactions and attitudes towards hate speech.

The project is divided into five interconnected sub-projects, which address hate speech from the perspective of production and perception, employing radically empirical approaches.